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Top German Magazine Joins Attack on Merkel: She Totally Botched it on Ukraine, Russia (Spiegel)

  • The timing of this is important - a growing chorus of criticism from influential voices - Merkel is under attack
  • Written by one of Germany's most prominent political journalists
  • Argues that Merkel personally ruined relations with Russia, lost Ukraine, and worst of all, backed a miserable war
  • Basically says she was incompetent
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More evidence that Merkel is in serious trouble on her Russia policy.

Under the no-holds-barred headline of "Summit of Failure: How the EU Lost Russia over Ukraine" Der Spiegel has published a major article blasting her "historical failure" and pinning personal responsibility on her for a "standoff with Russia and war in the Donbass".

The mammoth 7,000 words long article came from under the pen of a 6-man team headed by the influential Christiane Hoffmann, one of Spiegel's most senior political writers, and a Russia specialist.

The appearance of an article like this in Germany is of much more significance than it would be in an anglo-saxon culture, which encourages spirited debate.  German culture is much more consensual, and the media tends to move in lock-step on important policy matters.  

That this article is appearing now is a very big deal, and hardly a coincidence.

The article gives a detailed chronicle of Germany's and EU's dealings with Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovich from his inauguration until shortly before his downfall.

Without any needless, high-pitched rhetoric it systematically exposes German officials and Merkel herself as naive bumblers who consistently fail to understand Yanukovich, the Ukrainian realities and, most importantly, the critical importance Ukraine holds for Russia.

The end impression is that the current mess could have been easily avoided, and the EU could have even had its Ukraine deal, if it had only listened to Kiev and talked to Russia.

Here are some of the key paragraphs:


Everyone came to realize that efforts to deepen Ukraine's ties with the EU had failed.

But no one at the time was fully aware of the consequences the failure would have: that it would lead to one of the world's biggest crises since the end of the Cold War; that it would result in the redrawing of European borders; and that it would bring the Continent to the brink of war.

It was the moment Europe lost Russia.

For Ukraine, the failure in Vilnius resulted in disaster. Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has strived to orient itself towards the EU while at the same time taking pains to ensure that those actions don't damage its relations with Moscow.

The choice between West and East, which both Brussels and Moscow have forced Kiev to make, has had devastating consequences for the fragile country. But the impact of that fateful evening in Vilnius goes far beyond Ukraine's borders.

Some 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and almost 70 years after the end of World War II, Europe is once again divided.

The estrangement between the Russians and the Europeans is growing with Moscow and the West more inimical toward each other today than during the final phase of the Cold War. It's a reality that many in Europe have long sought to ignore.


When the German delegation, under Merkel's leadership, met with Yanukovych the next morning for one final meeting, everything had already been decided. They exchanged their well-known positions one last time, but the meeting was nothing more than a farce.

In one of the most important questions facing European foreign policy, Germany had failed.


More than anything, though, the Europeans underestimated Moscow and its determination to prevent a clear bond between Ukraine and the West.

They either failed to take Russian concerns and Ukrainian warnings seriously or they ignored them altogether because they didn't fit into their own worldview.

Berlin pursued a principles-driven foreign policy that made it a virtual taboo to speak with Russia about Ukraine. "Our ambitious and consensual policy of the eastern partnership has not been followed with ambitious and consensual policy on Russia," Füle says. "We were unable to find and agree on an appropriate engagement policy towards Russia."


Yanukovych had just spoken.

In meandering sentences, he tried to explain why the European Union's Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius was more useful than it might have appeared at that moment, why it made sense to continue negotiating and how he would remain engaged in efforts towards a common future, just as he had previously been.

"We need several billion euros in aid very quickly," Yanukovych said. Then the chancellor wanted to have her say.

Merkel peered into the circle of the 28 leaders of EU member states who had gathered in Vilnius that evening. What followed was a sentence dripping with disapproval and cool sarcasm aimed directly at the Ukrainian president. "I feel like I'm at a wedding where the groom has suddenly issued new, last minute stipulations."


Haber in particular demonstrated little enthusiasm for a compromise. When the ambassador sought to explain the Ukrainian position, Haber interrupted him saying: "Your Excellency, we are familiar with all of your arguments,"


"Stefan, if we sign, will you help us?" Yanukovych asked.

Füle was speechless. "Sorry, we aren't the IMF.

Where do these numbers come from?" he finally demanded. "I am hearing them for the first time." They are secret numbers, Yanukovych replied.

"Can you imagine what would happen if our people were to learn of these numbers, were they to find out what convergence with the EU would cost our country?"


"It was an unavoidable decision. Please understand me. I simply can't sign it now," Yanukovych said.

"I had to urgently turn towards Moscow, but I want to keep the doors to Europe open.

Please don't see this as a rejection of Europe."


"Today, we are going to make a bold chess move," one of Füle's people said, refusing to elaborate.

Were the Europeans going to offer Ukraine financial assistance after all?

... And then came the "bold chess move" that had previously been hinted at. Barroso said that Brussels would be willing to abandon its demand that Tymoshenko be released.

Yanukovych was dumbfounded. Didn't Brussels understand that other issues had long since become more important? 

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